sun 21/07/2024

Pleasure review - that Eve Harrington syndrome again | reviews, news & interviews

Pleasure review - that Eve Harrington syndrome again

Pleasure review - that Eve Harrington syndrome again

The ruthless ambition of a would-be porn queen

Ripe for the picking: Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry in 'Pleasure'

The film title Pleasure begs the question, whose pleasure? Since first-time feature director Ninja Thyberg’s cautionary drama depicts the journey of a newcomer intent on becoming the Los Angeles adult film business's top female performer, the pleasure self-evidently isn’t hers, but that taken by the hordes of men who’ll watch her being systematically degraded on Pornhub and its ilk. 

Doubtless some women porn stars enjoy their work. Women are increasingly vocal about enjoying porn, and there are, of course, adult films that prioritise female sensuality and satiety. But Pleasure’s milieu is that of the mainstream hardcore productions churned out in the featureless buildings of the sunlit San Fernando Valley, the world mecca of institutionalised misogyny. 

It's there the aggressively ambitious 19-year-old Swedish arriviste Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) – her face pre-set with glazed come-hitherishness – learns that superstardom will depend on her willingness to submit to double anal penetration and other perverse routines on camera. Bella is warned she’s on the road to perdition when, not knowing what she’s getting into, she agrees to make a rough sex video with two actor-director-rapists bent on choking her. Still Linnéa to her mum, she weepily calls home seeking maternal solace. (Pictured below: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle)

Bella is a 21st century equivalent of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the stagestruck neophyte who treacherously supplants Bette Davis's ageing diva in All About Eve (1950). That digitally photographed quasi-consensual sex acts rather than Broadway theatre is the medium for Bella's advancement is a sign of moral malaise.

As even-handed as Thyberg tries to be in her investigative approach, the reports that Pleasure is non-judgmental about porn are nonsense.

Few activities predicated on a person’s subjection to other people's power elicit a neutral response. Pleasure, I would argue, is a film of feminist resistance to the hatred of women that phallocentric heterosexual pornography manifests as a response to thwarted male desire. The democratisation of pornography in the Internet age has pandered to the fantasies of sexually enraged men, ratcheting up the routine defilement of female participants. Its real-life consequences for future rape victims and a generation of males incapable of empathy is likely catastrophic. 

When Thyberg cuts in an isolated closeup, shot with ironic detachment, of Bella’s face being filmed as it’s desecrated, she questions the industrial practice of banally mediating a woman’s exploitation and abuse; Bella's collusion in it is irrelevant. More than the unseen penis, the unseen camera – author of the hateful gaze – is the smoking gun.

What kind of young professional wants to ascend to the heights (or plunge to the depths) of depravity? That’s not to slut-shame Bella but to question her rationale for her brutal self-objectification. Soon after arrival at LAX, she jokes to her minder that she’s getting into porn because she was raped by her father – Thyberg refuting the general conviction that all adult actors are abuse victims and therefore maladjusted. (Pictured below: Evelyn Claire)

Along with selfie-smitten Bella's narcissism, her inner-Lady Macbeth is what drives her – the obsessive quest to be Number One. But Thyberg is uninterested in why she’s chosen porn. What concerns her is Bella’s inevitable desensitization and the ethical decisions she makes to get to the top. For what shall it profit a woman, the movie asks, if she shall gain the queendom of porn, and lose her own soul? Kappel, a non-adult performer making her debut, inhabits that quandary, as it slowly dawns on her, with admirable restraint; Bella doesn't soften, but she does start to think.

The unkindest thing Bella does is betray her best friend, an unruly colleague pluckily played by Revika Anne Reustle (aka porn star Zelda Morrison), who demonstrates that, contrary to their vixenish veneers, adult performers need love, affection, and loyalty like the rest of us. Evelyn Claire (also an adult star) skilfully conveys the emptiness of the aloof performer Bella seeks to dethrone – only to discover she’s not a bitch, merely passive. Each, in her own way, is a blank slate who offers herself to be scrawled on. Their interior lives may have been wiped from the surface, but they have not been entirely extinguished, as the actors show.

Along with selfie-smitten Bella's narcissism, her inner-Lady Macbeth is what drives her


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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